The face that will haunt Mr. Blair

The Basra hotel receptionist killed in British military custody as a result of torture in September 2003, has emerged as scores of Iraqis prepare to sue the Ministry of Defence for alleged mistreatment in detention.

The face that will haunt Mr. Blair

Graphic and shocking new information - including a photograph showing his battered and bruised face - about the death of Baha Mousa, the Basra hotel receptionist killed in British military custody in September 2003, has emerged as scores of Iraqis prepare to sue the Ministry of Defence for alleged mistreatment in detention.

The dead man's father, Daoud Mousa al-Maliki, is bringing a case on his son's behalf in the next four weeks, following Wednesday's ruling by the Law Lords that the Human Rights Act applies to civilians arrested and detained by British forces in Iraq. Nine other cases are proceeding at the same time, and solicitors say another 30 are in the pipeline.

Not only do witness statements in the cases shed fresh light on Baha Mousa's death, but, taken together, they also suggest a pattern of abuse by British forces in southern Iraq during the period following the defeat of Saddam Hussein's forces. With Tony Blair's imminent departure from Downing Street, the Government will hope that it is no longer so closely associated with the unpopularity of the war and the questionable means used to prosecute it, especially if most British troops leave in the next few months. But the decision in the House of Lords raises the prospect that their conduct in Iraq will be aired in the courts for years to come.

Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP whose parliamentary questions did much to bring the abuse to light, said the Law Lords' judgment would be "a continued headache for the Government, and make it difficult for Gordon Brown to draw a line under the Iraq debacle". Baha Mousa, who had suffered 93 separate injuries according to the post-mortem examination, is the only Iraqi to die in British custody.

At least two witness statements taken in Damascus just last week from Iraqis detained at the same time, and obtained by The Independent on Sunday, throw fresh light on his treatment. Mohand Dhahir Abdulah, then a 17-year-old student, said he had known Baha Mousa for two years, and immediately recognised his voice when he screamed: "Please give me only half an hour so I can breathe some fresh air. I am going to die." Mr Abdulah adds: "I heard sounds of beating, so it appeared the soldiers continued to beat him, despite his screams."

Maitham Mohammed al-Waz, a 37-year-old furniture maker, says he heard a voice pleading: "Please leave me. I am dying. I am dying. Have mercy. Don't hit me. I am going to die." The following morning the soldiers removed the hood over Mr al-Waz's head. "I saw a man lying on a stretcher. His body was not covered with any cloth. He appeared dead. I recall that at one point his arm bounced off the stretcher, limp."

In a telephone interview with the IoS from Basra last week, Mr al-Waz added: "I am 100 per cent sure that this was the body of Baha Mousa. I am 100 per cent certain that the body was of a dead person. When I came out, I double-checked with someone that this was Baha Mousa."

Despite an interim payment of compensation by the MoD to the receptionist's family, a three-year investigation and a six-month court martial of seven soldiers, costing £20m, nobody has ever been found responsible for Baha Mousa's death. One soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, who pleaded guilty to inhumane treatment of the detainees, was the first British soldier convicted of a war crime. He was jailed for a year and dismissed from the Army, but cases against the other six were dropped.

The presiding judge, Mr Justice McKinnon, found that the Iraqi's injuries were sustained "as a result of numerous assaults over 36 hours by unidentified persons", but that there had been a cover-up. "None of those soldiers has been charged with any offence, simply because there is no evidence against them as a result of a more or less obvious closing of ranks."

While the MoD continues to oppose a public inquiry into detainees' treatment, it says it is prepared to hold an internal board of inquiry into Baha Mousa's death. A separate investigation by the Royal Military Police is under way following the emergence of what the MoD called "new evidence" during the courts martial. Some soldiers may also face disciplinary action.

But a torrent of fresh detail is also expected to emerge as a result of the civil cases being brought against the MoD, with witnesses alleging that British troops routinely hooded detainees and deprived them of sleep. Mr Abdulah says he was urinated on by British soldiers, forced to drink urine, forced to "dance like Michael Jackson" and tied to the scalding radiator of a generator.

Mr al-Waz, arrested after his car was hijacked by insurgents in 2003, says of his treatment at the British Temporary Detention Facility in Basra: " I was asked to enter a room and stand at a corner. I saw six or seven civilian men... all had their hands cuffed to the front and were hooded with hoods/sandbags. They were groaning in pain. Their clothes were torn. I was forced to wear a hood. A soldier made a gesture as if he was going to punch me. When I flinched he knew I could see a little. He then placed more hoods until I could see nothing.

"I was asked to stand up, bend my knees and keep my arms stretched out in front. After five to 10 minutes I could no longer keep my arms outstretched and they dropped. As soon as they dropped I was hit with a bar across my back and on to my arms. I was also hit very forcibly on my left knee. The blows were very painful. I screamed and hollered in pain."



Mr al-Waz added that he was not allowed to sleep for two nights - sleep deprivation is a recognised form of torture. His treatment has left him a changed man, he said, prone to nightmares and violence against his wife and children.

His testimony is echoed by Mr Abdulah, who told a similar tale of being hooded and beaten and being deprived of sleep. He also said he was forced to sit with his head in the bowl of a toilet for hours at a time and to kneel bare-legged on sharp stones in the blazing 45C heat.

He added: "At one point I recall a soldier urinating on me. I could feel the urine seeping through my hood and running down my arms. It was a disgusting experience. A soldier came to me shortly afterwards with a bottle, saying 'Water, water'. He partially lifted the hoods and placed the bottle in my mouth and forced me to drink its contents. I realised it was urine."

Mr Abdulah also says he suffers from asthma, a condition made worse by the heavy rough hood and the smell from the toilet. When he asked for an inhaler, however, the soldiers instead gave him fly killer.

"A soldier... said he would give me some oxygen. He lifted the hoods to expose my nose and sprayed something on it. He then pulled the hoods down. Initially I did not know what the substance was, but almost immediately it aggravated my condition. My breathing difficulties and cough worsened; my chest felt tighter and I felt dizzy. The soldier must have found it amusing, because I heard him laugh. A little later I could actually smell the substance that was sprayed on to my nose, and recognised it to be a fly killer or insect repellent."

He adds that he was also verbally abused, and promised freedom if he brought his mother and sister to have sex with the soldiers. "Referring to my mother and sister in such a degrading manner disgusted me very much," he said.

Both men were subsequently taken to the notorious American detention facility, Camp Bucca, before being released after several weeks in custody without charge. In Camp Bucca Mr Abdullah says he was subjected to further indignities. His statement alleges: "We were treated like animals. We had to clean human waste with our bare hands."

Mr al-Waz told the IoS: "We were very happy when the British Army came to Basra, because they helped get rid of Saddam. But the way a lot of individuals in the British Army behave, and the cruelty of the treatment of the civilians in the south of Iraq, makes the civilians hate them. The civilians in the south of Iraq are very friendly people but because of the cruel treatment it is now just a matter of hate."

Martyn Day, the solicitor bringing the action against the MoD, said: " There has been the odd suggestion that this is more widespread. I would hesitate to say there was strong evidence at this stage. But if we can successfully resolve these cases, I wouldn't be surprised if more people came forward."

Mr al-Waz claimed that mistreatment was widespread, but "not everyone has photos and proof for what he's been through". He added: "I am bringing this case firstly to show the reality to people, the truth to people, so that everybody knows what's going on here. The second aim is that I was tortured and had a lot of pain and suffering, and I need to be compensated for that. Somebody has to pay for that.

"I would say to Tony Blair, please have mercy. We have been tortured; we suffered for more than 35 years under Saddam and now we're still suffering, even more than before. So please have mercy and treat us as you would treat your people."

An MoD spokeswoman said the ministry "is aware that Martyn Day will be submitting compensation claims, but we have not received any to date. We pay compensation where there is a legal liability to do so."

WITNESS STATEMENTS

Ten cases are being brought against the Ministry of Defence by Iraqis who are demanding compensation and exemplary damages for alleged mistreatment in British military custody, in south-east Iraq. The following are extracts from three of the 10 witness statements.

Daoud Mousa al-Maliki (Executor of the Estate of Baha Mousa, Deceased)

I am the father of Baha Mousa, who was aged 26 when he died in the custody of the British Army on 15 September 2003. I make this statement in connection with my son's claim for compensation from the UK Ministry of Defence for the torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and unlawful assaults inflicted on my son, which led to his death during his arrest and detention by British forces in Basra from 14 to 16 September 2003.

On that day I went to the hotel to pick up Baha. It must have been between 7 and 8am. On arriving I noticed that a British military unit had surrounded the hotel.

As I approached the hotel I could see the hotel safe from a large window. I was shocked by what I saw then. A few British soldiers stood surrounding the safe. The soldiers had a plastic bag into which they put various items that they had found in the safe. The soldiers then proceeded to take large amounts of money from the safe and stuff them in both their pockets. I saw one soldier stuff the money into his shirt. I could not believe my eyes.

I decided to alert the British officer in charge. I noticed that my son, Baha Mousa, and six other hotel employees were lying on the floor of the lobby/reception with their hands on their heads. This alarmed me. I felt that the officer in charge had been thankful to me for pointing out that his men were trying to steal money. I approached the officer in charge again. I said that it would be a good thing if the British Army was seen as being just and fair. I said that I have done the right thing by telling the officer in charge what I had witnessed. It is only fair if he co-operates with me and returns my son to me. At this point I pointed out my son so that the officer in charge was aware who he was. I pointed to Baha in front of the soldiers. The officer in charge assured me that my son would be released in two hours.

An officer arrived at the door of my house. This officer introduced himself as an officer from the British Royal Military Police (RMP). He said that he had come to tell me about the death of my son, Baha Mousa, and that he is to investigate the death of my son who died as a result of torture.

I was taken to the mortuary. Someone opened the door to a huge fridge. I saw my son's corpse covered with a white sheet. I burst into tears when I saw Baha's body. I still cannot bear to think about what I saw. Every time I relive the memory, I break down. No one could have prepared me for what I saw. I was horrified to see that my son had been severely beaten and his body was literally covered in blood and bruises.

He was naked. He had a badly broken nose, which was crooked and bent to the right side, there was blood coming from his nose and mouth. The top layer of the skin on one side of his face had been torn away to reveal the flesh beneath. There were several severe patches of bruising and blue-black marks all over his body. The bruises all over his body were of different colours. The outer skin on his wrists had also been torn off.

Dr Hill informed me that my son died of suffocation. The female officer present in the room heard what I was told. I asked for a copy of the post-mortem report but I was denied.

The female officer showed me the death certificate for my signature. I asked an interpreter present to read out in Arabic the cause of death reflected on the death certificate. The interpreter said the cause of death reflected was the stopping of the functioning of the heart. I was appalled by this.

I insisted that I would not sign the death certificate as it was, and pressed the officer to truthfully accept that she too heard Dr Hill saying to me suffocation was the cause of death.

I recall one of the officers to be Colonel Jorge Mendonca (then a lieutenant colonel). He visited my house several times. He would sit with Baha's orphaned children. He even bought them some toys during one of his visits. It was clear to me that Colonel Mendonca felt guilt and regret. I could see it in his face.

I asked him why soldiers tortured Baha to death. He replied that he was not aware of it. I told him that a good leader is always aware of what happens within the sphere of his authority and if he does not, then he has fallen short of his duty.

I was offered approximately US$3,000 (£1,600) by the British Army as compensation. I accepted this on behalf of Baha's family on the basis that this was part settlement only. I did not want to accept the $3,000 as full and final settlement for my son's death. In fact I accepted it so that it was evidence to show the Army did agree to pay some compensation. Why would the Army pay if it did not feel responsible for what happened to my son? Subsequently I was offered $5,000 without an admission of responsibility. Later I was offered $8,000 during the last visit of Tony Blair to Basra, but I refused this offer.

Baha was a very loving family man who spent quality time with his own family and everyone else. He was very friendly with everybody. I can vividly remember one time watching Baha playing with his sons. Baha was wearing his pyjama bottom. He had one of his sons over his shoulder and the other held in his hands and he was trying to play with them both at the same time. This was the usual picture every day. Baha had a very nice sense of humour and used to joke with his brothers and sisters, but in particular he loved to tease his mother.

As for me, Baha was not just my son, he was my friend. We had a deep bond between us. Baha looked up to me because he respected and valued my judgment. I on the other hand admired him for his acute business mind.

Maitham Mohammed al-Waz of Basra, Tweisa (near the Al-Rahma mosque), Iraq

I was forced to wear a hood, which partially restricted my view. A soldier made a gesture as if he was going to punch me. When I instinctively flinched and moved away he knew that I could see a little. He then placed more hoods until ultimately I could not see anything. The hoods were made of coarse material. They immediately restricted my breathing. I remember thinking at this point that I was going to die and lost all hope of coming out of this ordeal alive.

I felt most punches and kicks around my kidney area, thighs, back and legs, most acutely around the upper sides of my thighs. I would cry or yell out when I was struck because of the pain.

I was beaten throughout the night intermittently every time my hands dropped or if I dropped my head or nodded on the first night. I believe that the aim of this was to prevent me from sleeping.

I was not allowed to go to the toilet throughout the time I was detained in the detention facility. When I asked a soldier he would say "No!", so I remained quiet. I somehow managed to contain myself throughout this period and did not soil myself. However, as a result I felt intense pain in my lower abdomen for up to three or four weeks after I left the detention facility and I was passing blood when urinating during this period.

Once we arrived at [Camp] Bucca, we were all put in one tent. The soldier overseeing them was an American, not one of the British soldiers who were with us at the detention centre.

I felt a lot more relieved now that the British soldiers were not near us. For the first time I felt I could look at the other detainees with me. I could clearly see the signs of torture on these men. For instance, I recall that one man, whom I now know to be Joad Kadhim Jaml Al-Faeaz, had a very badly beaten nose. His nose was blue and bruised and there was dried blood on it. Joad told me that, as well as his nose, he had a lot of pain along his sides and across his back. At one stage I saw Joad with his shirt removed and his body was blue.

At Bucca I realised that I was finding it difficult to walk. I could barely walk five or six steps before I needed to sit down. This was partly due to my painful knee but was also caused by the bruising.

At Camp Bucca, I was constantly thinking of my family. I had no idea whether they had been informed of my arrest and detention, or indeed my whereabouts. I was very frightened at the time because Baha had died, Kifah and Radif had been taken to hospital. The rest of us were in pretty bad shape.

I have been told that I need an operation in order to repair my knee. The operation can only be performed abroad and the total cost of the operation, including accommodation and travel would be approximately $35,000.

My kidneys were also damaged during the beatings. I was passing blood in my urine for up to two months from the time I was at Camp Bucca.

After my release I felt tired and completely exhausted. I did not sleep well. I suffered from phobic anxiety whenever I saw or heard a military vehicle. Just hearing them would be enough to set me off and freak me out.

Recently British soldiers searched the apartment block I live in. Instinctively and without realising what I was doing, I ran out of my house and ran straight into my brother's house.

I notice that my personality has changed since what happened after my arrest and detention. I get angry quickly. I show my impatience on my wife and take out my frustrations on her for even the simplest of things.

I still suffer from lack of sleep sometimes. I have nightmares and I cannot remember what is going on. These problems are compounded by the fact that my reputation had been damaged within my community as a consequence of my detention. I believe that the detention incident has changed my personality.

Mohand Dhahir Abdulah Student, University of Basra

I was born on 7 March 1985 and am 22 years old. I am a university student studying economics and management at the University of Basra, in my third year. I am unmarried.

I was taken by a soldier to the gritty courtyard. I was then ordered by him to do what he was doing. He acted out by lifting his trousers, indicating that I should do the same to expose my knees. Then he kneeled, indicating that I should do the same. I was forced to kneel in the courtyard on a bed of sharp-edged pebbles. I had to do this for some time, in the hot blazing sun. It is very hot in Basra in the month of September with average temperatures at 45 degrees. At the time we arrived at Camp Stephen it was around midday, with the sun at his highest point, the hottest period of the day. The sharp pebbles hurt me and after a while my knees felt numb.

After a short while, a soldier indicated that I should get up. When I did so I saw the deep imprints made by the pebbles on my knees. The skin around my knees was bruised and tender. The soldier simply laughed at my agony.

I arrived at another building, which I knew to be the British Army headquarters. A British flag was displayed quite prominently here. Upon arrival I was asked to get out of the Land Rover.

Suddenly a soldier started beating me and I wondered whether it was because I had asked to go to the toilet. Although I cannot be certain of the time frame, I would say the beatings started approximately one hour after I was brought into a room. I was facing the wall and a soldier would come and hit me repeatedly on the shoulders or kick me with his boots in my kidney area.

I became aware I was outside, near what looked like a swimming pool. There was a big green generator, which was operational, by the pool. One of the soldiers told me in English to sit down by the generator. I sat right next to the generator. I was still wearing one hood at the time. I could see the soldier sitting opposite me but not very clearly. I heard him laughing.

The soldiers pushed up my cheeks against the radiator section of the generator, which was very hot. I was instructed to remove my shirt, spread my legs, both my hands stretched out to my sides with my back to the generator, and lean on the generator, and one of the soldiers removed the lid of the radiator. Boiling water splattered out of the radiator and splashed onto my hands, back and face, scalding my skin.

A soldier grabbed my head, made me bend my knees and place my bare, exposed knees on the grooves on either side of the toilet bowl and bend over. The soldier then forced my head into the hole at the base of the toilet where the waste goes. The stench from the toilet was unbearable. It made me feel quite sick, nauseous and disgusted. The toilet smelt as if it was very dirty and filthy.

Throughout the night I was prevented from sleeping by the soldiers. They shouted repeatedly, "No sleep! No sleep!" and also made various noises like banging the floor and shouting into my ears or very near me.

A soldier pushed a long torch, which was lit, against my eyes so that I could not see him. Cold water was then poured over the sack and the sack replaced over my face. The hoods were very dirty and grimy. Dirty water coursed down my face into the toilet bowl. The soldier then started to rub the dirty, coarse sack against my face, and this was very painful.

[At Camp Bucca] I once requested a plastic bag to keep my bread in. The soldier made me sit on a high box, which was exposed to the elements and the strong desert sun. I was made to kneel in this place for close to two hours.

I was eventually released from detention in December 2003, three months after my so-called "arrest".

I recall that my mother and sister came to visit me twice whilst I was in Camp Bucca. Umm Qasr is about a two-hour journey by car from where I live. My mother and sister travelled by taxi and each return trip cost $100. At Umm Qasr visitors had to have appointment cards. My mother and sister had to be at the camp at 6am, but would not see me or my father until midday. This meant that they had to spend up to six hours standing or sitting in the sun. The visits only lasted for seven minutes.

I have had nightmares since my release and continue to suffer from these occasionally. On many occasions my family members have said that I would be sleeping soundly, then suddenly I would start shouting in my sleep or I would talk to myself in my sleep. I still have disturbed sleep.

Source: Independent

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